Introduction: How to Make a Powerful Burning Laser for CHEAP!

After watching many videos on youtube of people burning things with high power lasers, I wanted one.Those lasers can cost a lot of money though, something I don't have. In this Instructable, I will show you how to make one for cheap. This burning red laser outputs about 400 milliwatts(I think) and can burn electrical tape, light matches and melt thin plastic. I was messing around with this laser one day, and I shined it at a mirror, and the laser shined back in my eye for a second. I heard a popping sound and I couldn't see anything for a couple of minutes. Now, I was LUCKY that I did not get permanently blinded, but if I shined it a second longer I probably would have been. Now with that said, NEVER point a laser at another person, animals, or any other living thing.

Okay, Now let's make the laser.

[UPDATE]: This has been my most popular Instructable so here are some long overdue updates.
Firstly, I would like to bring to attention the "popping sound" when I hit myself in the eye. Yes, that turned out to be eye damage. I didn't see a specialist about it until recently due to financial reasons. I now know that I have a scar in my eye that needs possible ongoing medical attention and constant checking with an Amsler grid. A
nother serious accidental laser eye damage story can be found here. I would like to stress that at the time I wrote this Instructable I was young, dumb, and broke. I did not think that getting laser safety googles was needed or worth it. LASER SAFETY GOOGLES ARE ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY AND FAR CHEAPER THAN EYE SURGERY OR ANY MEDICAL ATTENTION! You only have one pair of eyes!

Second, I got a lot of comments asking questions such as: "where did you get the parts?", "why isn't my build working?", etc. I wrote my original parts list based on how I got my parts (hence why I said the soldering iron was free). I have since changed my parts list source to Amazon since many international readers do not have access to local stores like RadioShack. Do bear in mind that some of my links are Amazon affiliate links and that I receive a commission for purchases made by you on the affiliate website, at no additional cost to you. Such funds are needed for possible future medical treatments.

I have also updated the instructions to be more clear and specific. I included troubleshooting and possible reasons for failure.

Step 1: The Parts Needed

[UPDATE]: New parts/tools are added with explanations for each part. Pictures are added, descriptions added in pictures.

Parts Needed:

1. Laser Safety Goggles: Choosing a quality pair of laser safety goggles can be a real challenge since there are many subpar laser goggles on the market. If the goggles are super cheap, there is a good chance that it is untested Made in China crap. Another way to tell bullshit is when goggle manufacturers make really bold claims. I've seen a manufacturer claim that their product can "block all wavelengths from 200nm - 2000nm". If that were true, you literally would not be able to see out of the goggles since the visible light spectrum is 380nm - 740nm! That being said, my personal recommendation would be these 625-850nm goggles by AixiZ Lasers. AixiZ has been in the game long enough and has a solid reputation. Eagle Pair is another good brand but there are a lot of fakes. OMG check out these $6 Eagle Pair knockoffs that are TOTALLY just as good!

2. A old DVD burner: The DVD Burner option is cheaper than buying a diode ONLY IF you get it for free. Which is not hard since you can find these in old computers, computer repair shops, stores that offer tech recycling, in the junk, etc. Another pro is that DVD burners also come with a lot of other cool components including brushless motor, stepper motor, and a high power Infrared laser diode as well (which you could use to make yet another burning laser). If you decide to go the DVD Burner route and can't find one for free, my recommendation would be this one, as it is the cheapest one I found that is capable of both 24x speed and dual layer recording which according to this eLABZ article means that it contains the strongest laser diode possible at 400 mw.


Laser Diode: You can buy just the red laser diode (without the DVD Burner) here. Great option for those who don't have a DVD burner or too lazy to take one apart. Laser diode is also cheaper if you don't want the other DVD burner parts.

3. LM317 Voltage Regulator: I got mine at a local RadioShack. Many people don't have a local RadioShack so Amazon it is. I chose this one since the other ones seemed a bit dodgy and because it is shipped by Amazon you can always hit them up if something is wrong.

4. 10 ohm resistor: Once again, got mine from RadioShack. Here's the product on Amazon: 10 ohm resistor

Optional: If you want MOAR POWER out of the laser, you could use a 4.7 ohm resistor instead (here). Doing so may shorten the laser diode life though.

5. Laser Module:This laser module by AixiZ comes preinstalled with a 5 mw red laser diode and driver, and is the exact one I used. We will be removing them and just using the housing to install our high-power laser diode. You can keep the original 5 mw diode + driver, but just be warned that you CANNOT use the driver for the 5 mw laser diode to drive the new DVD burner diode.

6. 4 AA battery pack: The one I used also came with an ON/OFF switch built-in. Here is the exact one I used.

7. Wires: I made the unfortunate mistake of not color-coding my wires. I have actually burnt out a very expensive (blue) laser before due to incorrect polarity. I did some digging and found what I deemed to be the best wires for this project. Red/Black color-coded, bonded wire, and 24 gauge (best for high power lasers).

Tools Needed:

1. Soldering Iron: Any soldering iron will do really, but I prefer lower power or adjustable power because laser diode are heat sensitive. I couldn't find my exact one but here's the closest thing: Dual-Power Soldering Iron

2. Solder: Duh. I use this brand and it practically lasts forever. Seriously I still have this same spool of solder since 2007 and I solder A LOT.

3. Desoldering bulb: For extracting the diode. I got mine from RadioShack but this one looks exactly like mine.

4. Screwdriver: For disassembling the DVD burner. Cheapest set on Amazon.

5. Anti-Static Wrist Strap: People have asked why their build doesn't work. It may be because they unintentionally zapped the diode with static electricity. Get an anti-static wristband to ground yourself before working with the diode.

6. Laser Diode Press Tool: Used to press the laser diode into the AixiZ module. There are actual specialty tools made to press diodes, but since this Instructable is about doing things for CHEAP you could instead follow this advice and use a 1/4" male coupler as a press instead. Costs almost nothing. You'll also need a bench vice to exert force on the press tool.

7. Basic Multimeter: Diagnostic tool to test setup. Highly recommended but not required.

8.Lab power supply: Only needed if you are not 100% certain on diode pin layout. Recommended if you extract from DVD burner.

9. Breadboard (Optional): I'm not the best at soldering things and have destroyed components before due to overheating. I used a breadboard to test my build initially to see if things work before soldering.

Step 2: Get the Diode

[UPDATE]: Rewrote instructions to add more details. Pictures are added, descriptions added in pictures.

*Before disassembling DVD burner or touching a laser diode, be sure to put on your anti-static wrist strap and clamp the metal clip to ground*

Remove all the screws on your DVD drive, pull out all the ribbon cables. The main part we are concerned about is the "laser sled" which is the (usually plastic) piece that rides on the rails on the "laser tray", a metallic rectangle thing.

When you remove and disassemble the laser sled, you'll notice it contains two laser diodes, one of them will be infrared. Use the soldering iron + desoldering bulb to remove both diodes from ribbon cable.

Take note if the diodes are open can or closed can diodes. Both diodes should be handled with care, but open can diodes more fragile and requires delicate handling. Be sure not to touch or get dirt/dust into the exposed diode element. When extracting from the metal "box", you can use the laser diode press tool in conjunction with a vice and the back half of the AixiZ module. Put the diode press tool over the diode pins and put the AixiZ module over the "metal box", then squeeze in vice. The diode should come out into the AixiZ.

We will need to determine which diode is visible red by applying power. If you choose you could also make this project using the infrared diode, and you would end up with a burning IR laser instead.

Step 3: Diode Testing and Pressing

[UPDATE]: Added this new step. Pictures are added, descriptions added in pictures.

We don't know what the exact diode pinout is for your particular diode(s) i.e., positive and negative pins. If you used the parts I recommended, the laser diode pinout should be the "standard" pinout as shown in the picture. If you used some other diode, you'll need to find out what the proper polarity is for you diode. I'd first recommend doing some research online to see if you can find the datasheet for your diode. If you cannot, then you must test the diode to find polarity. Set your lab power supply to about 1.8 volts at low current and double check the output with the multimeter. Put on your anti-static wristband and laser safety goggles if you haven't already. The nice thing about the goggles I recommended is that they are able to protect against both the ~650nm red and the ~780nm infrared. Now, pick a diode and point it in a safe direction. Connect the "standard" polarity to the diode and turn on power supply briefly.

If the diode lights up dimly, then congrats you found the correct polarity. If not, reverse the polarity and repeat above steps. If you still cannot see anything it may be the infrared diode, so try looking at the diode through a camera. More details about this test can be found here.

Once you found the visible red diode you need to seat it inside the AixiZ module. But first, you need to remove the existing weak laser/driver. I went with destructive removal with a hammer and a bolt since I have too many diodes and don't give a damn. If you'd like to keep the existing module intact and working, you can remove it carefully with the laser diode press tool + vice. Then you can use that same diode press tool + vice to carefully press the burning laser diode into the front half of module. Once in, you can solder red/black wires to the positive/negative pins. Do not solder to the diode outside of the module; diodes are heat sensitive so the module acts like a heatsink. Also be sure to set your soldering iron to the lower wattage setting.

Step 4: Build the Driver

[UPDATE]: Rewrote instructions to add more details. Picture added. Descriptions added to pictures.

The orientation of the LM317 should with the black plastic side facing up and pins facing towards you. Solder the positive wire from the battery pack to the right pin on the LM317. Solder the 10 ohm resistor between the middle pin and the left pin. The picture above shows a 5 ohm resistor instead of a 10 ohm; this is where you could replace the 10 ohm with the optional 4.7 ohm resistor if you so choose. Test your output with your multimeter by probing the LM317 left pin and the negative on the battery pack. Make sure your output is acceptable according to diode data sheet. If not, use this calculator to find the proper resistance values (R2) to achieve desired output voltage.

Once that's good then solder the laser positive to the left pin, and the laser negative directly to the battery negative.

Yay you're done

Step 5: Burn Stuff! (and FAQ)

[UPDATE]: Added FAQ section. Pictures are added, descriptions added in pictures.

Your laser should be working at this point so have fun and be safe! I don't want to continuously ramble about safety, but I'd advise you to check this laser safety checklist, especially if you are new to lasers. Here's an FAQ to clarify so common questions. I may update this in the future as more questions are asked.


1. Why isn't my laser working?

I cannot diagnose that since there are many things that could go wrong. If you took every precaution I mentioned and the laser still does not work, it is possible the diode may have been dead to begin with. If you used a DVD burner, you could always test the same driver on the other (infrared) diode. If that also does not work it may be a problem with the driver.

2. Why doesn't my laser burn things?

For burning, you need to turn the adjustment lens (black plastic piece) until the size of the laser dot is the smallest at a particular distance. Like burning with a magnifying glass. Also, be sure that you are using a DVD burner and not a reader/player. Another thing to note is the speed of the DVD burner. The faster ones have stronger laser diodes. If you happen to have a slower burner, you may struggle to burn non-black objects. If you use the recommended diode or burner you should have no problems.

3. Can I connect the diode to the battery without a driver?

You COULD do that just like how you COULD jump off a cliff. All joking aside, the driver is not mandatory, but helps greatly to ensure longevity of your laser diode. It is a constant current source that protects against over voltage, voltage/current inconsistencies from the battery, excessive current flow caused by diode overheating, etc. It actually allows you to get more power output from the diode without the risk of destroying it.

4. Is it strong enough to burn wood, remove rust, engraving, etc.

Depends on the particular diode, but even the lower power diodes are sufficient to light matches, pop (black) balloons, and some of the other fun laser things.

- Burn wood: Yes, should be able to burn wood, although it may be a bit slow depending on the diode and color of wood.

- Remove rust: No, this laser will not be able to effectively remove rust. Rust removal lasers are usually pulsed lasers (similar to the lasers used in tattoo removal) and are generally several hundred watts.

- Engraving: Yes, this laser should be sufficient for engraving. There was a similar Instructable here that showed a homemade engraver using a ~200 mw laser.

5. What if I want a different color laser?

Sure, like I said before you have the choice to make the laser red or infrared. You could also use blue or green diodes with this setup with some modification. Here are some of my recommended diodes:

And here are the safety goggles for the blue/green lasers. Yes, these goggles work for both.

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